19 November 2007
Rennes-les-Bains was a spa long before the Romans came to southwest France. There are springs that rise all round the village, bursting from the rock - hot or warm, rich in a variety of minerals. The spas they feed have picturesque names - my favourite is La Fontaine des Amours, a lovely dark deep pool in the trees.
The road that runs into Rennes-les-Bains skirts the gorge cut by the river. Where the massive structure of the Etablissements Thermaux comes into view is the place where Meredith and Julian Lawrence had to stop their cars while the workmen cleared the road of it's fallen tree.
Enter the village and the houses overhang the stream. This weekend just gone, the mid-morning temperature in the village was -2° C. Still, in a hot pool separated by a ring of rough stones from the flow of the river itself, people were bathing in the health-giving waters. Steam rose and was carried eerily away by the chill breeze.
Upstream of the junction of the Blanque and the Salz - the rivers that meet just above Rennes-les-Bains - the waters of the Salz run heavily laden with salt from their source above Sougraigne.
Head out of the town to the south and the valley deepens, becomes wilder, more sauvage. Two days ago we heard the sound of gunfire. There were hunters hidden in the trees - like Anatole and the traitor Denarnaud. There is a right turn up into the forest that takes you quite close to the Trembling Rock and the Devil's Armchair and the Homme Mort standing stone.
Go far enough - beware, the tarmac will become distressed and rutted - and you will meet a charming country road that leads through a fertile valley all the way to Rennes-le-Château. This is the road driven by Meredith and Hal.
When you get to Rennes-le-Château, you will see - in the quaint, unseemly country church - the stoop of holy water supported by a twisted demon. Because of the angle of its head, it is easy to misconstrue the expression on its ghastly face.
You must kneel down on the cold flagstones and look up into its wide blue eyes.
And keep that image with you in the Sepulchre.